Book Review: The Essential Trinity

Standard disclaimer – this is an IVP/Apollos book, whom I work for. But I didn’t have to be nice.

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I’m a big fan of the Doctrine of the Trinity, and you should be too. I’ve reviewed books on the Trinity before, though none I think on the more technical end. This is one of those. Edited and contributed to by some serious evangelical scholars, this is a meaty tome that is unapologetic in its biblically faithful approach. As Brandon Crowe and Carl Trueman point out in their introduction, “The Trinity is foundational to Christian theology“. Thus, this book grapples with what the New Testament texts have to say about the Trinity, and then try to put it into practice in the life of the local church. If this opening paragraph hasn’t put you off, I really would encourage you to work through this (hopefully mercifully short!) review) and consider picking up a copy of the book.


A brief note should be shared about what is rather un-sexily called ‘The EFS Controversy’. This is an in-evangelicalism-house argument about how the Trinity works, and whether or not the relationship between the Father and the Son can give us any clues about the relationship between men and women. Whilst this was in part sparked off by something Carl Trueman wrote, I’m reasonably sure this wasn’t a genius viral marketing strategy, but rather some legitimate and important questions that needed to be asked. New Frontiers blogger and theologian Andrew Wilson has a great post summarising it for the rest of us. If you want to know which way I might lean, then I’d direct you towards the excellent work of Fred Sanders, and also the brilliantly blunt and systematic perspective of Steve Holmes. Regardless, this present book, The Essential Trinity is rightly named and helpfully timed. The publication date might be mid-furore, but the text itself is un-tarnished by these concerns, in my limited reading.


With the exception of a really interesting chapter by Mark S. Gignilliat, ‘The Trintiy and the Old Testament: real presence or imposition?’, the first part of the book deals with the New Testament books and the various angles on and evidence for the Trinity. The sections on the Gospels are particularly pertinent, with Richard Bauckham on ‘The Trinity and the Gospel of John’ being particularly interesting. Rightly so, Bauckham focuses especially on the role of the Holy Spirit, and the divinity therein, which make this chapter essential reading. Alan Thompson’s chapter on ‘The Trinity and Luke-Acts’ is also really helpful, noting the continuity between the Gospel and the Acts, and the emphasis on the Trinitarian shape of the Gospel and salvation is a heart-warming, brain-stretching delight to read.


The latter part of the New Testament is covered in four chapters; Brian Rosner’s ‘Paul and the Trinity’, Jonathan Griffith’s ‘Hebrews and the Trinity’, Brandon Crowe’s ‘The Trinity and the general Epistles’, and finally Benjamin Gladd’s ‘An apocalyptic trinitarian model: the book of Daniel’s influence on Revelation’s conception of the Trinity’. I particualrly enjoyed Griffith’s article on Hebrews, and his firm conclusion: “Throughout Hebrews the God who reveals himself and redeems his people is unmistakably God the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit“. Again, there is a helpful and deliberate emphasis on the exposition of the Trinitarian shape of the Gospel, the way that Trinitarian Doctrine shapes so much of what is going on in the New Testament. 


The second part of The Essential Trinity deals with ‘Practical Relevance’, and it is here that things get particularly interesting. If the first part of the book is a set of masterclass keynotes on how we derive the Doctrine of the Trinity from the text of the New Testament, then this section is a set of heartfelt seminars exhorting us about how and why that is worth bothering with. At the start of his (excellent) chapter on ‘The Trinity and Prayer’, Carl Trueman writes; “While all Christians believe in the doctrine of the Trintiy, it is often the case that somewhat fewer are confident about the difference it makes“. This section of the book aims to build that confidence. Mark Thompson’s chapter about ‘The Trinity and revelation’ is fascinating, with a powerful scriptural discussion of what makes it God’s business. Regular readers will know that I am a fan of Mike Reeves whether he is writing on prayer life, church history, or the Trinity; his chapter on ‘The Trinity and Preaching’ is a tour de force that I wish all who preach might read. These three chapters a beautifully complimented by Scott Swain’s vital discussion of ‘The mystery of the Trinity’, and Robert Letham’s chapter on worship, where he rightly notes that “The church’s worship is grounded on who God is and what he has done“. Amen. 


It would be easy for readers of this blog to dismiss this review, or to dismiss this book. I really hope that won’t happen. If you are involved in church leadership – particularly in preaching, prayer, bible study or worship – then you owe it to your people to drink deep of the wonderful truth of who God is. The Trinity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This book, The Essential Trinity is a fantastic resource: a collection of helpful essays on crucial topics. If you have folk in your church who don’t ‘get’ the Trinity, or claim it is unbiblical, this book is for you to be equipped to lovingly lead them into truth. If you want to reflect on how the wonderful truth of who God is as Trinity might impact the life of your church, then this book is for you. I really can’t recommend it highly enough. It is hard work – but like a slow-cooked tagine with hours of preparation and hours of marinating, it is most definitely worth it.

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